Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Humble Iron Skillet

In recent years the iron skillet has made a come back as a kitchen implement, but for decades it was a staple for all things cookery. Cast iron implements had been around for centuries before the skillet became a household item with the advent of flat surface cooktops,. Before that the dutch oven legged kettles, and hanging pots took the place of pride upon the hearth. The skillet, however, became one of the most versatile pans in the kitchen.

Available in a variety of sizes the cast iron skillet could go from fire to stove top, to oven on a whim. When traveling this valuable item was a must in saddle bags or wagon box. It could easily be placed on a rock in the middle of the fire where it absorbed the heat you needed for frying bacon or simmering beans.  Add a lid to the mix, and you could make your biscuit right on the open fire.

Not only is the cast iron skillet versatile some studies indicate that it can have added health benefits. Iron, which the skillet is made of, is an essential mineral we all need. When cooking in cast iron trace amounts of iron leech into food improving its nutritional value.

Although the cast iron skillet was a must for the pioneer traveling west, or the chuck wagon cook, or even the homemaker of the time what else made is special? One aspect of cooking with cast iron is that it has a natural nonstick surface. Once the cast iron was "seasoned" you needed very little fat added to the pan when cooking. Even today many see this as a health benefit and enjoy the natural low-fat cooking option.  Cast iron was hearty. Although heavy and some times cumbersome, cast iron holds up well to the years of use and abuse it may endure. Even if a handle broke off, it was often welded back on using a bit of brass or lead. My mother still has her great grandmother's "Spider" or heavy skillet with a brass weld holding the handle in place.

There is one more aspect of the iron skillet that we often see in movies and TV shows. It made a handy weapon for a woman in need. Wielding a cast iron skillet by the handle as a club could easily drop an attacker in their tracks. In my recent book, Wendi's Wish the preacher's wife even suggested using it to persuade a stubborn husband to listen to his wife.

Overall the cast iron skillet has been a useful, hearty, and healthy option for cooks across the ages. I know I love using mine and often explore a variety of foods that were traditionally cooked in them in my books. I don't go into many examples in my latest book Rock's Revelations but I can imagine the big cowboy making his bacon and beans in a skillet over an open fire and eating them straight from the pan.

Next time you make a batch of cornbread try cooking it in an iron skillet and see how you like it. It's a favorite around our place.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. Melt butter in a cast iron skillet. Turn off heat and set butter aside until needed.
  3. Combine cornmeal, salt, cayenne, honey, eggs, and buttermilk. ...
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

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